Standing beside President Saakashvili in a newly opened church close to the Russian border, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, hinted on the need of talks between the Georgian and Russian leaders.
Ilia II said that the new church in the mountainous Kazbegi district was of special importance, because of its proximity to the border with Russia, which could even serve as a venue “for talks between the heads of states.”
Later in the same speech Ilia II also said: “I think this church will show us a miracle and I think that this miracle will be expressed in [the fact] that our countries will again be in peaceful relationship.”
This part of the Patriarch’s speech was also included in a press release, which the Georgian President’s administration released in connect to Saakashvili’s participation in the ceremony of opening the new church in Dariali gorge. It says: “His Holiness and Beatitude [Ilia II] expressed hope that with the blessing of this church the two countries [Georgia and Russia] will restore relations and the peace will be established again.”
Ilia II, whom former U.S. ambassador to Georgia John Tefft described in one of the leaked cables as “astute diplomat”, called on the Georgian and Russian leaders in March “to show wisdom” and launch talks “on various levels” between the two countries.
The Georgian Patriarch met with Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev in December 2008, when he was in Moscow to attend funeral of Russian Patriarch Alexy II. President Saakashvili at the time hailed the Church’s “diplomatic mission.”
According to a December 2008 confidential U.S. embassy cable, released by WikiLeaks, which details a meeting between then U.S. ambassador and the Georgian Patriarch, Ilia II “expressed his desire to serve a positive role in normalizing and stabilizing relations with Russia.”